It’s officially NFL draft week, and if you have been immersed in the the NBA or NHL playoffs or the start of baseball season and are just tuning in (we forgive you!), then this piece is your introduction to what’s about to go down in Nashville.
For months, NFL draftniks have scrutinized combine numbers, sifted through rumors and pored over film. The words of anonymous scouts have filled columns and fueled speculation over polarizing players. Smokescreens still hover over all draft-related information. Team needs have clarified themselves in the aftermath of free agency. The draft has been mocked, over and over again. A process months in the making, even years for some, is about to come to a head.
Here are the top-line storylines—the names, picks and decisions—that will shape the 2019 NFL draft, and ultimately the futures of many franchises.
1. Where, when, how to watch
The first round will take place Thursday April 25 starting at 8 p.m. ET. All three days will be broadcast on ESPN, NFL Network and ABC, which will air all three days of the draft for the first time ever. Rounds 2-3 begin at 7 p.m. ET Friday April 26 and Rounds 4-7 begin Saturday, April 27 at noon ET. For the first time, the draft will take place in Nashville.
2. Kyler Murray, Josh Rosen and the Cardinals
The biggest story leading up to the draft is Kyler Murray, the former Oklahoma quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy in his only year as a college starter and spurned the Oakland Athletics to play football (despite being the ninth pick in the 2018 MLB draft). On the field, Murray is other-worldly quick and has a strong arm. He’s also 5' 10", which gives some people pause.
The Murray intrigue, in large part, has been fueled by the team that holds the draft’s top pick: the Cardinals. In the offseason, Arizona hired a college coach with a losing record, Kliff Kingsbury, to orchestrate a modern-day offense that’s tailor-made for Murray’s rare skillset. The fit between Murray and the Cardinals seems near-perfect because of Kingsbury, but the situation is more complicated than that. Last season Arizona traded up to draft quarterback Josh Rosen tenth overall, so if the Cardinals draft Murray this year, that means Rosen will likely be on the move.
Rosen struggled last season, but he also didn’t have much talent around him, which makes him a tricky evaluation. For quarterback-needy teams like Washington, New York and Miami, the risk-calculation could be worth it; at least one team has offered a second-round pick for Rosen.
There’s been a consensus throughout the process that Murray is going No. 1. It would be a major shock if the Cardinals did anything other than draft Murray. If they do take Murray, Rosen immediately becomes a factor in the rest of the first round and a trade becomes imminent. If the Cards pass on Murray and go defense, look for the teams with quarterback needs to try to jump up into the top five; that’s the chaos scenario.
Whatever they do, the Cardinals have a franchise-altering decision on their hands.
3. Who are the first-round quarterbacks, and how does this year’s class compare to last year’s?
This year’s crop of quarterbacks is widely considered to be weaker than last year’s class (Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and Rosen) at the top. Most pundits believe a minimum of three and a maximum of four quarterbacks will go in the first round. Here are the top four:
• Murray (see above)
• Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State: A true pro-style pocket passer who lacks good mobility. The rumors, take them as you will, say Haskins is sliding after once being thought of as the definitive second quarterback in the draft behind. He should go somewhere in the 6-15 range.
• Drew Lock, Missouri: A good athlete with a strong arm. Teams reportedly love his competitiveness and demeanor, but he was inconsistent in college. He’s a similar to Patrick Mahomes in that he has a tendency to throw from unorthodox angles and take chances. Still, he’s not Patrick Mahomes.
• Daniel Jones, Duke: Viewed by many as a late-first or early second-round talent, but could get pushed up because of the high demand for quarterbacks. Strong mechanics, footwork and mental makeup, but he doesn’t have elite arm talent.
4. Which teams (other than the Cardinals) could be in the market for QBs in Round 1, and where do they pick?
Raiders (Nos. 4, 24, 27), Giants (Nos. 6, 17), Bengals (No. 11), Miami (No. 13), Washington (No. 15), New England (No. 32).
5. What other position class is strong in this draft?
The strength of this draft, at least at the top, comes on the defensive front. Of the MMQB’s top 24 overall prospects, 12 are defensive linemen or edge rushers. Nick Bosa (Ohio State), Quinnen Williams (Alabama) and Josh Allen (Kentucky) should be the first three off the board, likely all in the top four. Bosa and Allen are athletic edge rushers who could play as 3–4 outside linebackers or 4–3 defensive ends, though Bosa probably fits better into a 4–3, and Allen into a 3–4. Some believe Williams, a penetrating defensive tackle with high-level quickness and instincts, is the best player in the draft.
Some wild cards on the defensive line, who have top-10 talent but could drop a bit: Ed Oliver, DT, Houston; Rashan Gary, EDGE, Michigan; and Montez Sweat, EDGE, Mississippi State. All have elite physical traits, but all have reasons to be skeptical, for one reason or another. Oliver is probably the safest bet to go in the top 10.
6. What if my team needs a ... ?
• Running back (Raiders, Eagles, Ravens, Colts): There are several talented running backs in this draft, just not in round 1. Alabama’s Josh Jacobs is a possible first-round candidate, but watch for a run on tailbacks in rounds two and three.
• Wide receiver (Giants, Bills, Patriots, Jets, Ravens, Colts, Panthers, Raiders): There are a few more receivers than running backs at the top of the draft, but there really isn’t a slam-dunk wideout to take early. Ole Miss’s D.K. Metcalf is a physical freak who could conceivably go in the top 10, and Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown—a quick, electrifying deep threat—could go in the teens. N’Keal Harry and A.J. Brown are also bigger receiving options who could go late in Round 1.
• Tight end (Bills, Patriots, Steelers, Jaguars, Titans, Cowboys, Lions, Packers, Vikings): T.J. Hockenson (Iowa) is the main player to know here. Hockenson might be the most complete tight end to enter the league since Rob Gronkowski (no, he’s not Gronk), but he checks the boxes as both a blocker and a receiver. He’s should go in the late top 10 or early teens. His Hawkeye teammate, Noah Fant, should come off the board in the late teens or 20s. Fant has eye-popping physical tools and more receiving upside than Hockenson, but he won’t offer much as a blocker and was less productive than Hockenson at Iowa. Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr. could also sneak his way into the back of the first round.
• EDGE (Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Ravens, Texans, Chiefs, Giants, Falcons, 49ers, Saints, Buccaneers, Rams, Seahawks): As mentioned above, Bosa, Allen, Sweat and Gary should go somewhere in the first half of the draft. Other names to know here are Clelin Ferrell (Clemson) and Brian Burns (Florida State).
• Defensive tackle (Patriots, Colts, Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers, Falcons, Panthers, Cardinals): Behind Williams, the top two defensive tackles are both Clemson Tigers: Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence. Wilkins is a penetrator in a similar mold to Williams, while Lawrence is a physical freak as a 342-pound player who can swallow blocks and, at worst, play as a run-stuffer on early downs. Other names to know: Jerry Tillery (Notre Dame), a long, versatile player, and Jeffery Simmons (Mississippi State), an uber-talented player with injury and character concerns.
• STACK linebacker (Ravens, Steelers, Bengals, Broncos, Chargers, Buccaneers, Eagles, Falcons): This draft is light on inside linebackers. The two Devins, Devin White (LSU) and Devin Bush (Michigan), are the top to know for the first round. White could go as high as No. 4 and will almost certainly go in the top 10, while Bush should go in the late top 10 or early teens. Both players have the sideline-to-sideline speed teams covet in an increasingly pass-happy league. There’s a big dropoff after them.
• Cornerback (Jets, Steelers, Texans, Chiefs, Eagles, Redskins, Bears, Rams, 49ers): There isn’t a truly elite cornerback in this year’s draft, but there could be a run on corners later in the first round. Greedy Williams (LSU) has great height-weight-speed measurables, but he was an inconsistent tackler and his speed didn’t always translate to his cover ability. Deandre Baker (Georgia) is an undersized player who’s strong in run support but can struggle in coverage, and Byron Murphy (Washington) is strong in coverage as a technician but lacks top-end speed. Rock Ya-Sin (Temple) might be the most solid corner on the board. Depending on what a team likes, any could be the first off the board somewhere in the 20s.
• Safety (Bengals, Browns, Steelers, Colts, Jaguars, Titans, Bears, Packers, Vikings, Panthers, Saints, 49ers): There very well could be more safeties off the board in the first two rounds than corners, but probably not in round 1. There’s a ton of second round options at safety, led by Nasir Adderley (Delaware), Taylor Rapp (Washington) and Johnathan Abram (Mississippi State), among others.
• Interior Offensive line (Broncos, Falcons, Saints, Rams, Raiders): Garrett Bradbury (NC State) should go in Round 1 as a center and might have one of the highest floors of any prospect in the draft. Chris Lindstrom (Boston College) and Erik McCoy (Texas A&M) could also hear their names called near the end of the first 32. In a draft low on top-tier players, teams at the end of the first round may opt for safer, lower-risk options by taking plug-and-play starters at a non-premium position.
• Offensive tackle (Dolphins, Browns, Texans, Jaguars, Eagles, Bears, Packers, Panthers, Cardinals): As many as five or six tackles could go in the first round, starting in the late top 10 with a potential run somewhere in the mid-teens. Juwaan Taylor (Florida), Jonah Williams (Alabama) and Andre Dillard (Washington State) are widely considered the top three and should go by the end of the teens. Cody Ford (Oklahoma), who some teams view as a guard, and Dalton Risner (Kansas State) could figure in too Thursday.
7. What will Mike Mayock do in his first draft with the Raiders?
The Raiders, armed with four picks in the top 35 and three in the first round, are positioned to be major power brokers of the first round in Mayock’s first draft is general manager. Mayock has kept everything on the table in his public comments, including drafting a quarterback to replace Derek Carr. He’s also kept everything close to the vest about who the Raiders like, even from his own family. Snagging one of the draft’s top defensive talents seems like the best value move at four, but it’s possible there’s a quarterback head coach Jon Gruden really likes there.
It’s easy to see Oakland trading down from four with a team looking to jump up for a quarterback, but it’s just as plausible to see Mayock and Gruden packaging some of those other early picks to get up into the teens for a player they like. The Raiders could also stand pat with the picks they have and give the roster an infusion of young talent to build around. To add even more intrigue, Gruden and Mayock have reportedly dismissed their scouts ahead of the draft because “they don’t know who to trust.”
With a new GM, Gruden as the coach and Antonio Brown now on the roster, the Raiders might be the league’s biggest wild card. Hitting in the draft this year will be paramount as the club prepares to move to Las Vegas. Get your popcorn ready, Raiders fans. It should be an eventful weekend.
8. Is this the year the Giants finally draft the heir apparent to Eli Manning?
The Giants bypassed Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen to take Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick last season. Eli Manning is not getting any younger, so it at least feels like the Giants have to address the position with one of their two first round picks in the first round (Nos. 6 and 17 overall). If GM Dave Gettleman opts to go elsewhere at six, he might have to trade up from 17 to have a chance at one of the top signal-callers. The Giants have naturally been linked with Duke’s Daniel Jones because his college head coach, David Cutcliffe, worked with Eli Manning at Ole Miss. It seems like the Giants pick at six could be an inflection point—if the Giants take a quarterback, teams in the teens may feel like they need to jump into the top 10 to get a QB. Like the Raiders, the Giants enter the draft with multiple first-round picks and a desperate need to acquire young talent.
9. Which teams are candidates to trade up or down, and why?
In a year where there aren’t as many clear blue-chip prospects as past years, it feels like there could be more movement than usual as teams try to find value on players they may differently from others.
The Patriots, Eagles and Giants all have extra picks early and could try to move up for different reasons. For New England and Philadelphia, who are trying to win now, using that extra draft capital to move up for a high-impact contributor could make sense. The Patriots have second-round picks and three third-picks, while the Eagles have two seconds. The Giants could move up a spot or two from six to secure a quarterback they really like, or they could get up from 17 if they see their quarterback of choice fall outside the top 10.
With just four total picks and no picks in the second or fourth rounds, it would make sense for the Seahawks to move back from No. 21 overall to acquire more picks. The Ravens always look to trade back, and the Jets at No. 3 are probably the earliest team that may look to trade out. Defensive players like Quinnen Williams or Josh Allen may be enticing, but the Jets don’t have a second round pick after trading up for Sam Darnold last year. The Lions at No. 8 and the Bills at No. 9 could also look to move out for a team that wants a quarterback; both teams are picking at a point where the elite defensive linemen should be gone and it’s a little early for some of the offensive tackles.
The Raiders are one wild card, and the Redskins are another. If Washington doesn’t trade its pick at 15 to the Cardinals for Josh Rosen, it might need to move up to get one of the top four quarterbacks. If the quarterbacks are already gone, however, a move back could make some sense.
10. Which teams don’t have first round picks? Browns, Bears, Cowboys
Three teams do not own first round picks: the Bears, the Browns, the Cowboys and the Saints. If you’re a fan of these teams, just imagine Khalil Mack, Odell Beckham Jr., Amari Cooper and Marcus Davenport as your respective first-round picks. The Bears first pick at No. 87, the Browns at No. 49, the Cowboys at No. 58 and the Saints at No. 62.
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